Bad Music is Good for You

Given the choice between an album by electro metal-core act The Bunny The Bear and any 90’s era Rush record, I’d rather listen to the former every day of the week. No; I haven’t lost my mind. Bad music often has considerable entertainment value. But average music? Not so much.

It’s why discerning audiences would rather watch Space Balls than your run-of-the-mill, monthly spy thriller. Sure, the production values may be top-of-the-line and the explosions might be kind of cool, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all been there before so many times that we could tell the story before it begins.. I can promise you one thing: you’ve never been to The Bunny the Bear before.

Let’s take a look at The Bunny The Bear’s “In Like Flynn.” A basic, stomping dance beat punctuates juvenile screams and auto-tuned wailing as synthesizers swell with faux-dramatism. That’s not even looking at the video, wherein a girl rips off her own arm and lovingly sticks it on a tree as bear and rabbit puppets dance in stringed spasms. Does this sound awful? It is, but it’s also hilarious.

Try finding something that entertaining in a 90’s Rush album. Spoiler alert: you’re not going to. I’m not picking on Rush here, because there’s an unlimited number of bands I could toss into the fray here. 80’s Genesis. 90’s Metallica. 00’s Snoop Dogg. These artists have one crippling flaw in common in their respective time periods: excruciating boredom.

There’s a reason you typically don’t hear people singing the praises of Load and Reload, arguably Metallica’s low-point. Those songs somehow make a Rick Ross album premiere seem uneventful. Part of this is surely expectation. After all, no one listens to Metallica for a fine country tune, but is that all it is? No. The songs really are unbearably dull. I certainly don’t think of this when I think of Metallica:

Yikes. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of irredeemable garbage to cleanse the palette. I’ll take a fair dose of horrendous hilarity over an unimaginative slog any day of the week. Brokencyde? Any time.

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Q3 2015: Top Albums

Another quarter, another list of phenomenal records. Truth be told, I didn’t think the back half of 2015 could hold a candle to the first half. I was wrong. These past three months have introduced a number of remarkable records into the my year-end best-of list. None have impressed me quite like Deafheaven’s New Bermuda, a scathing slab of black metal counterbalanced by gorgeous post-rock tones. It’ll be hard to top, but with three months to go anything can happen.

  1. Deafheaven, New Bermuda 
  2. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
  3. Hiatus Kaiyote, Choose Your Weapon
  4. Dungen, Allas Sak
  5. Failure, The Heart is a Monster
  6. The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird is Home
  7. Emancipator, Seven Seas
  8. Anekdoten, Until All the Ghosts are Gone
  9. Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss
  10. Bjork, Vulnicura

The Best Albums of 2015 So Far

Six months in, 2015 is shaping up to be another fantastic year for new music. I’ll refrain from saying that it was harder to pick my favorite releases this year than it has been previously since I’m pretty sure I said the same thing last year and the year before. Redundancy is the enemy of every writer, after all. That said, it was definitely a challenge to narrow so many great albums to a meager ten. I’m happy to finally share my favorites with all of you. Here they are. I hope you find something new to enjoy.

  1. Hiatus Kaiyote, “Choose Your Weapon”
  2. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”
  3. Failure, “The Heart is a Monster”
  4. The Tallest Man on Earth, “Dark Bird is Home”
  5. Anekdoten, “Until All the Ghosts are Gone”
  6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress”
  7. Vennart, “The Demon Joke”
  8. Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”
  9. Bjork, “Vulnicura”
  10. Steven Wilson, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”

Recent Digs, May 2015

I haven’t posted one of these lists since February, which is far too long. From now on, you’ll find one of these per month: a list of my favorite albums released in any given month or albums I just can’t stop spinning. From the brilliant soul-funk of “Choose Your Weapon” to the gorgeous nostalgia of “Dark Bird is Home,” May has brought some fantastic albums. Sure, some of these records weren’t released in May, but I think exceptions can be allowed when albums as good as Monolord’s “Vaenir” and Anekdoten’s “Until All The Ghosts Are Gone” are still fresh in memory.

  1. Hiatus Kaiyote, “Choose Your Weapon”
  2. The Tallest Man on Earth, “Dark Bird is Home”
  3. Faith No More, “Sol Invictus”
  4. Steve Von Till, “A Life Unto Itself”
  5. Anekdoten, “Until All The Ghosts Are Gone”
  6. Thee Oh Sees, “Mutilator Defeated At Last”
  7. Amon Tobin, “Dark Jovian”
  8. Mew, “+-“
  9. Monolord, “Vaenir”
  10. Hop Along, “Painted Shut”

Wish You Were Here: Bands Who Deserve a Comeback

The mid 2010’s seem saturated with aged bands returning for highly-anticipated comebacks. 90s rock veterans Failure are set to release “The Heart is a Monster” in June. Faith No More’s “Sol Invictus” hits shelves in less than a week. Refused has announced a new album is in the works, as have shoegaze pioneers Slowdive. Many more are entrenched in the studio, looking to break years, even decades, of silence with the ever-elusive return. The following bands are acts who I’d love to see release new material.

1. Hum

Hum is a rare breed of band. Originally active for eleven years, the group released four albums: two of which are considered shoegaze classics. Talbot and company peaked with their last, “Downward is Heavenward” and disappeared. Sure, they’ve played some live shows since, but the band has made its intention to stay a live act clear. That’s a shame, because another Hum record would excite a lot of people. I certainly wouldn’t mind.

2. Isis

Aaron Turner called it quits on a high note. 2009’s Wavering Radiant was a great record — one that any band should be proud of. That’s what made the band’s end so unfortunate. Sure, it’s respectable to leave before the inevitable drop in quality, but it seemed clear that Isis wasn’t going to fall prey to it any time soon. It’s been six years since the band’s last record, and it would be interesting to see how recent projects by Turner and his former band mates would influence the Isis sound. It’s probably not in the cards, but I can always dream.

3. Bark Psychosis

Few bands can claim to be the pioneers of their genre, but Bark Psychosis can. In 1994, the band released its debut, “Hex,” which set the rules for post-rock to come. Mysterious, subtle but alarmingly intimate, “Hex” sounds vital 21 years later. Sure, the band came back for one last hurrah with “Codename: Dustsucker” in 2004, but it’s well past time for another record. We’re past the 10 year wait between records, guys. Don’t keep us waiting.

Springtime Sounds

Here in Atlanta, we’ve just endured a week-long rainstorm. Now, sun is beaming down on the pavement outside my window, birds are doing their thing, and all is well outside. Spring — at least our romanticized vision of Spring — is finally here. That carries a lot of connotations musically. We all have preconceptions of what springtime albums are. For many, it’s the sunny vibe of The Beatles. For others, it’s the pounding angst of 90s rock.

For me, I’ve always associated springtime with the expansive vibes of psychedelia. Driving down the sunbathed streets while listening to revivalist and vintage psych is one of life’s greatest joys. One of my personal favorite picks is Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound. Their sound pays a clear homage to the 60s, but the songwriting carries enough vitality that it’s difficult to care. Whether it’s the fuzz-laden romp of “Clive and the Lyre” or the kaleidoscopic expanse of “Blue Wire,” Assemble Head always brings good times when the sun is out.

Legendary jazz-man John Coltrane is another artist I always return to in Spring. The joyous bounce of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” conjures feel-good vibes like few others, and the rest of the album doesn’t slack off in this respect either. Coltrane blends masterful musicianship with an uncanny uplifting spirit, and it never fails to lighten my mood.

Spring is the season of rejuvenation and rebirth, and that can make for some truly excellent music after the dismal months of Winter. Whether you enjoy chilled-out electronica or the haze of fuzzed-out guitars, there’s something for everyone in the Spring. These are some of my favorite Spring albums:

  1. Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, “When Sweet Sleep Returned”
  2. The Tallest Man on Earth, “The Wild Hunt”
  3. Captain Beyond, “Captain Beyond”
  4. The War on Drugs, “Lost in the Dream”
  5. Tame Impala, “Innerspeaker”
  6. Bob Dylan, “Bringing It All Back Home”
  7. Earthless, “From the Ages”
  8. Real Estate, “Days”
  9. John Coltrane, “Giant Steps”
  10. Failure, “Magnified”

Top 50 Albums of the Half Decade

It occurred to me recently that we’re halfway through the “new” decade. That’s a big milestone. Since the first days of 2010 we’ve had some truly game changing albums — albums that will likely shape their genres for years to come. We’ve had just as many albums that, while not particularly innovative, have emerged as the leading examples of their particular styles. From experimental jazz to psychedelic rock revival to piercing singer-songwriter, we truly have had it all. Let’s celebrate. Here’s my top 50 albums of the half decade.

  1. The War on Drugs, “Lost in the Dream”
  2. Ulver, “Messe X.I-X.IV”
  3. The Tallest Man on Earth, “The Wild Hunt”
  4. Flying Lotus, “Cosmogramma”
  5. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”
  6. Kurt Vile, “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze”
  7. Gazpacho, “Demon”
  8. Ben Howard, “I Forget Where We Were”
  9. Earthless, “From the Ages”
  10. GY!BE, “’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”
  11. Steven Wilson, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”
  12. Burial, “Kindred”
  13. Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels 2”
  14. Deftones, “Koi Yo Nokan”
  15. Sharon Van Etten, “Are We There”
  16. Grouper, “Ruins”
  17. Boards of Canada, “Tomorrow’s Harvest”
  18. Anekdoten, “Until All the Ghosts are Gone”
  19. Hammock, “Departure Songs”
  20. Esoteric, “Paragon of Dissonance”
  21. The National, “High Violet”
  22. Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”
  23. St. Vincent, “Strange Mercy”
  24. Aidan Baker, “Already Drowning”
  25. Tim Hecker, “Virgins”
  26. Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”
  27. Agnes Obel, “Aventine”
  28. Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”
  29. Lo-Pan, “Salvador”
  30. Wovenhand, “Refractory Obdurate”
  31. Clutch, “Earth Rocker”
  32. Enslaved, “Axioma Ethica Odini”
  33. Fiona Apple, “The Idler Wheel”
  34. Sigur Ros, “Kveikur”
  35. Max Richter, “Infra”
  36. James Blake, “Overgrown”
  37. Causa Sui, “Euporie Tide”
  38. Hidden Orchestra, “Night Walks”
  39. Low Roar, “0”
  40. Nujabes, “Spiritual State”
  41. The Great OId Ones, “Tekeli-Li”
  42. Bjork, “Vulnicura”
  43. Converge, “All We Love We Leave Behind”
  44. Deafheaven, “Sunbather”
  45. Chelsea Wolfe ”Pain is Beauty”
  46. Bonobo, “Black Sands”
  47. Niechec, “Smierc w Miekkim Futerku”
  48. The Roots, “undun”
  49. Jon Hopkins, “Immunity”
  50. Bohren & Der Club of Gore, “Piano Nights”

“How Soon is Now?”: When Classic Albums Become Classic

Since the release of Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, the internet has exploded in all corners. Pitchfork’s wizened sages have decreed the highest of honors. Hip-hop fans both east and west have joined hands in celebration. Even the trolls have seemed silent before the monolithic throne of Lamar. Now, sure, this may be hyperbole, but it plays to the larger point here: “To Pimp a Butterfly” is really, really good. It’s so good that throughout various discussion forums across the web you can already find countless droves of people hailing Lamar’s latest a bona fide classic – an inscrutable masterpiece that will define hip-hop for decades to come.

Isn’t it a little early, guys?

I won’t deny that Lamar’s latest record is one of my favorite album’s to come out this year. It’s an album I’d certainly give an A if I were to review it now. Lamar’s lyricism is stunning – at times painfully personal and scathingly social. His poetry burns straight through the speakers to burrow deep inside. Stylistically, Lamar has never been this ambitious. Incorporating jazz, soul, and traditional production into a brilliant mix, “To Pimp a Butterfly” truly comes alive. But to call an album that’s only been on the shelves for a month a “classic” is bordering on absurd.

“Classic” albums aren’t made in the reactionary hail of praise in a record’s infancy. It takes time. Looking back at 1974 and the release of Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” is a revealing moment. When Dylan’s album was released, critics scratched their heads, baffled and confused. Those critics were the generous ones. Some went so far as to pen demolishing criticisms of Dylan’s album. Today, however, marks a new story for that record. It’s 2015, and “Blood on the Tracks” is unanimously considered a monolithic album whose influence on modern folk artists is nearly incalculable in its magnitude While the amount of time required for an album to become classic may lead to a nebulous rabbit hole of debate, it’s not an unfair statement to make that it does take some substantial amount. It’s also important to note I’m not saying critics’ initial reactions to albums determine their classic status; rather, only time, and, by extension, the influence a record casts over time, is integral to the making of a classic.

It takes calculable, documentable influence on artists and genres to come for albums to be true classics. Let’s take “Sgt. Pepper” as an example. How many bands have cited that record as one of their favorite recordings? How many bands have claimed that “Sgt. Pepper” influenced their own music? The number here is irrelevant, but the point isn’t. Surely, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala wouldn’t exist without the trail-blazing psychedelic pop of The Beatles later-era recordings. The influence is obvious in some cases. “Solitude Is Bliss,” Tame Impala’s debut single, barely attempts to hide the Beatles worship as it winds through its kaleidoscopic verses. Here, most listeners can probably pick up the similarities in sound if they’ve heard both “Sgt. Pepper” and “Innerspeaker.” Classic albums transfuse themselves over time into the blood of other artists in ways that are apparent and material to the new music.

This overzealous knee-jerk behavior isn’t just ridiculous in its own right; it’s also unhealthy for the larger picture of music discussion. If we allow ourselves to be immediately overwhelmed by music to the point that we’re lavishing the newest releases with the highest possible honor before it’s even been released for a month, let alone a year, then we’re doing music discussion, and the music itself, an injustice. Doing this, we devalue music, turning it into some rapidly consumable commodity and forget it as the pure art that it really is. So, if we really love Kendrick Lamar, let’s do him a favor; let’s wait.

Q1 2015: Top Albums

One of my favorite traditions over the years has been tracking my favorite album releases throughout each quarter of the given year — noting which records remain on the list over the months and which are slowly whittled off. At the end, only 25 albums will make it, but, for now, here’s my top 15 albums of 2015. I hope you find something to enjoy.

  1. Steven Wilson, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”
  2. Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”
  3. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”
  4. Bjork, “Vulnicura”
  5. Elder, “Lore”
  6. The Decemberists, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”
  7. Mount Eerie, “Sauna”
  8. Death Grips, “Fashion Week”
  9. Napalm Death, “Apex Predator – Easy Meat”
  10. Lupe Fiasco, “Tetsuo & Youth”
  11. Vessels, “Dilate”
  12. Joey Bada$$, “B4.DA.$$”
  13. Thou / The Body, “You, Whom I Have Always Hated”
  14. Jose Gonzalez, “Vestiges & Claws”
  15. Beardfish, “+4626-Comfortzone”

Wilco’s Solid Sound Lineup Revealed

Illinois-based alternative rock band Wilco has released the lineup for their upcoming Solid Sound music and arts festival. The festival, set to take place June 26-28 in North Adams, Mass, is set to include performances from Real Estate, Taj Mahal, Richard Thompson, Tweedy and more.

Although early bird passes to the shows have sold out, advance three-day passes are still available for purchase. More information regarding the festival, including the full lineup and an extensive Q&A page, can be found here.